PUNTA ABREOJOS, BAJA CALIFORNIA SUR – A blinding light suddenly slashed through the deep darkness of the night in Asuncion Bay, striking the deck of a small expedition boat. The squinting crew members were aghast to see armed men in another vessel shining the beam on them. Were the intruders dangerous traffickers of contraband? That turned out to be the question both parties of sea goers were asking. The spotlighted mariners breathed more easily when they learned the approach came from coast guards of the nine lobster and abalone cooperatives on the Pacific shores of the Baja Peninsula. For their part, the security patrol members were visibly relieved to learn that the passing craft carried a science mission recreating a voyage round the peninsula recorded by authors John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts in their 1941 Log from the Sea of Cortez.

On board was the director of the Biodiversity Research Center at the San Diego Museum of Natural History, Exequiel Ezcurra. The sagacious doctor in ecological mathematics recognized the self-proclaimed guardians of the main as the answer to the worst threat facing fisheries in the Gulf of California Region: piracy. The cooperatives’ sentinels form part of a community fishing strategy, which has earned international certification for sustainability, positioning them as a model in their line of work.

The cooperatives’ success stories cover the west coast of the peninsula from Isla Cedros on the north to Punta Abreojos on the south. Set as they are against a desolate backdrop of overexploitation and habitat degradation, they give hope to the fishing industry, the most important socio-economic activity in the Gulf of California Region. “It’s the only place from Los Cabos to Vancouver where abalone and lobster are fished in a sustainable manner,” says Ezcurra, who also has served as director of the Mexican government’s National Ecology Institute.

Punta Abreojos: The cooperatives